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Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Ed Loves Bacon G.I. Joe Movie Primer

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Instead of reaming the annals of the new movie G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, I thought it may be better to give potential movie goers a G.I. Joe primer and let them be their own critics for a change.  As all Joe fans know, "Knowing is half the battle," so here's all you need to know about G.I. Joe and the movie's relation to the long running comic and various animated series.

G.I. Joe and Cobra organizations FYI

First off, G.I. Joe isn't America's elite covert strike force anymore. Instead they're some NATO empowered military group that doesn't have a clue of what's going on in the world around them. Believe it or not, this is not that far of a stretch.  In Devil's Due Publishing's (DDP) G.I. Joe: Cobra Reborn, Cobra rises and makes surgical strikes around the U.S. and at that point in time, there is no Joe team to combat them. The Joes, a group of active and inactive military specialists are recruited and get organized in the follow up book G.I. Joe: G.I. Joe Reborn.

Reborn successfully depicts the world of Joe in a more realistic and believable setting. In the series, Cobra's maniacal attempts to take over the world are stripped away and replaced with a leaner, more plausible right-wing group set on destroying America and the democracy Cobra believes ruined this country. This is very similar to the movie except for the America part. Cobra is once again an international terrorist group hell bent on ruling the world, but acts more like a shadow organization causing calamity and manipulating governments to bend to their will.

Meet the Joes

I scoured a couple stacks of Joe comics and cartoons to figure out where the hell these characters were derived. At the top there's the General Hawk (Dennis Quaid), who helms the team. Hawk's home base was split between the Pentagon and the U.S.S. Flag and had very little to do with team operation and focused more as a liaison between the government and the team. Quaid's Hawk is very much a hands-on leader which incidentally manifests more in this manner in the DDP comic series.

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Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) is an enigma to me in the movie. He was introduced in the Joe series in the early 90's and is a heavy ordinance trooper, that equates to being a big dude with a big gun. In the film, he's the field team leader FROM ENGLAND who seem to get there a little too late in most instances. In the animated series, G.I. Joe Sigma Six, he's still just a trooper with big guns so where how HD ends up taking point on missions is confusing.

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Scarlett (Rachel Nichols) character really gets under my skin. In the film, Scarlett is a type-A know it all who doesn't even know she has a feminine side let alone know what to do with it. Nichol's portrayal of the team's favorite red head is oblivious to human interaction and faults her strict upbringing for her cold fish demeanor.  In the cartoon series and the books, Scarlett is a counter intelligence, martial arts prodigy whose weapon of choice is the crossbow. Scarlett gets her name from her red hair and being an ATLANTA NATIVE (Scarlett O'Hara, get it) which is completely loss in this movie. Scarlett is Duke's on again off again girl until later comic series when Scarlett and Snake Eyes make a go of it, unsuccessfully. In the film, she takes a reluctant shine to Ripcord (Wayans).

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Next we meet Breaker (Siad Taghmaoui), he's the Joe's FRENCH chief communications officer and intellectual heavyweight during the movie. You know how it is, he's the one who defuses the bombs, figures out ways to cypher cryptic messages and solve technical anomalies. Taghmaoui's character is necessary since you need brains on any team, but here's the problem I have - HE'S DEAD IN THE G.I. JOE SERIES! There's several other living Joes they could have drawn from for the role. For example, in G.I. Joe Sigma 6, they used technogeek High Tech to deliver the smarts for the team, he created the gauntlets, vehicles and artillery the team used to combat Cobra. Did they just pull his name from a hat, I think so.

The coolest and deadliest member of the Joe team is and will always be Snake Eyes (Ray Park). Dressed in his visored ninja bodysuit and wielding his katana sword, he is THE commando you want in your corner to get things done. In the series, Snake Eye's is disfigured and mute from a helicopter crash but in the film he's taken on a vow of silence as a promise to exact revenge on his nemesis Storm Shadow, who murdered is marital arts sensai. In the later versions of the comic book series, Snake Eyes removes his mask revealing a huge scar across his face.

The last members of the movies assault team are Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) who get recruited to help fulfill G.I. Joe's first mission against the soon-to-be-identified Cobra organization. Tatum's Duke lacks the focus you'd expect from the cartoon and comic's field leader, especially when confronted with his lost love/fiancee Ana, who turns out to be The Baroness, one of the bad guys. Ripcord is a HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) jumper in the comics but its pretty obvious Wayans is the designated comic relief for the movie. His lighthearted attempts to take the edge off the action and multiple but whoopings falls flat. Wayans' action scenes are ok even though he doesn't engage in much hand to hand combat. One plus on Ripcord's character in the film is a scene where he makes a HALO jump after destroying a warhead in the upper atmosphere.

The Bad Guys

James McCullen (Christopher Eccleston) is head of MARS corporation, a technology company responsible for most of the worlds defensive weaponry. Little do his NATO customers know, he's also Destro, a known weapons dealer who sells the same arsenal to NATO's enemies to fund his shadow organization (soon to become Cobra). In the earlier books and the cartoon series, Destro is portrayed as a brilliant but scorned scientist who partners with Cobra making the world his laboratory. In later books (Cobra Reborn) we see Destro as McCullen who believes it's his destiny to stongarm the world into submission and deliver the much needed order only he can provide.

Ana (Sienna Miller) is the Baroness, a ruthless assassin and McCullen's right hand man. The Baroness is cold and calculating martial arts master who'll stop at nothing to complete her mission. The film's re-imagining of this character is probably the most disappointing. In the books and cartoon, she's a sports a thick German accent and a master of disguise and espionage. Her character role takes a true Hollywood twist towards the end that will make true Joe fans moan out loud.

Like the Joes, Cobra has its own resident ninja to take care of business - Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee). Unlike his good guy counterpart Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow craves the spotlight and tends to make bold statements, like using throwing stars (his calling card) when sent on a kill. Shadow's beef with Snake Eyes is in line with the comics and cartoon. They both attended the same martial arts school and as their skills developed Shadow's jealosy of Snake Eye's prowess drove him down a dark path of validation and revenge. Lee's portrayal of Storm Shadow is pretty good, he shows his mastery of his choice weaponry and delivers the same deadpan tone you'd expect from a ninja.

Zartan (Arnold Vosloo) is probably the most dramatic departure from his original Cobra character. In the animated version and earlier comic versions, Zartan was a master of disguise who had a particular skin abnormality which made him sensitive to light. When in contact with bright light/sunlight, his skin would turn dark blue and painful. In the later Reborn series, Zartan is reinvented as simply a master chameleon with a twisted murderous tendency. Vosloo's version of Zartan is clearly culled from the new comic's vision and strays very little from the what you see in the book.

The last member of the team is the mysterious Doctor (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a creepy deformed husk of a man hidden behind goggles and a breathing mask. Not much is know about the Doctor until his true identity is revealed and he dons the mantle of Cobra Commander. In the series and earlier comics, Cobra Commander has had multiple origins in several story arcs. The most memorable origin is from G.I. Joe - The Movie in which he's a brilliant scientist from the secret mutate land of Cobra-La. After a being disfigured from a forbidden lab accident he sets out to fulfill his destiny to take over the world. In the book Cobra Reborn, The Commander is merely a small businessman who's world is torn asunder from government bureaucracy and vows to fight the oppressive American government by taking power through his secret group, Cobra.

The Lowdown

As a longtime fan of the animated series and comic books, I straddled the fence on this one, trying to figure out what works and what doesn't.  The CGI vehicles throughout the movie resemble plastic instead of metal at times so it feels like you're looking at retail grade toy models instead of cool, realistic metal arsenal. Overall its entertaining and a relatively good thrill ride, but gets corny and sadly laughable with some of the relationships and plot twists.

What's Missing

Check out this parody of the animated series classic PSAs. Its actually funnier than what Marlon Wayans does in the movie.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Rated PG-13, In theaters August 7, 2009, Directed by Stephen Sommers

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